Friday, January 23, 2009

Top 20 of 2008: #10

10. The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound

I didn't hear this album until about three weeks ago, and when I did I had one of those "Oh God I have to totally rethink my Top 20 list" moments. The album really knocked me off my feet on first listen. That high didn't completely hold up over the ensuing weeks, but this is a damn fine record that deserves a lot more than Springsteen and Ramones comparisons. Although those comparisons are right.

I think a more interesting point of reference might be Social Distortion. They were one of the first bands to draw the connection between '50's greasers and '70's punks, and as a result they became a true cult band, not widely acclaimed but loved a small group of devout fans. The Gaslight Anthem add a lot to the aesthetic that Social Distortion established, namely the themes of escape and belonging that guys like Springsteen and Dylan were so good at capturing. And while they're not in that echelon, they do it better than just about anyone working today (including Springsteen and Dylan, although those two have since moved on to new things.)

The major criticism of this album is the same one all punk rock albums get: it all sounds pretty similar. And it really does keep them from greatness. It's only on a few songs, like "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" and "Here's Lookin At You, Kid," that they break out of their full-steam-ahead mode and add some depth to their music. But then variety isn't really the point with guys like these.

The point is that these are songs to pump your fist to, to yell out of open car windows on hopeful Friday nights. More than just about any album this year, The '59 Sound captures a mood and an attitude. The songs are hopeful, cynical, brash and vulnerable. It's earnest music that doesn't hide anything, and there's way too little of that stuff going around these days.


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